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The red dress returns

The Red Dress in ACEArts Somerton

The Red Dress is a global collaborative arts piece that has been 14 years in the making... but that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface, or describe just how meaningful she is ( she, because that's how artist and project creator, Kirstie Macleod, refers to her).

The dress involves the work of 380 different embroiderers from 51 countries, including 367 women and girls, 11 men and boys, and 2 non binary individuals.

No-one can deny the dress is breathtakingly beautiful, but she's also become a platform for sharing voices and stories - stories that might not have made it out into the world.

65% of the embroderies are from vulnerable women living in refugee camps, recovering from war, abuse and trauma, or living in extreme poverty, and Kirstie says she has deliberately gravitated towards sharing stories like these through The Red Dress:

" Over the years, I did generally steer the dress towards finding vulnerable groups, connecting with charities... just because the dress had become something, and it was an opportunity for them to share their voice and then for me to then try and get it out into the world'.

I first chatted with Kirstie two years ago for my community radio show, back when the dress was displayed at Kirstie's home gallery, ACEArts in Somerton. I was fascinated and inspired by what the dress represented then, and how the project was continually blossoming and giving a voice to those who really needed it.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Kirstie again to discover what has been happening in the 24 months since our initial conversation. The answer was lots! Over half an hour we uncovered more about that, about how the dress made a real impact at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, about Kirstie's own feelings and relationship with the dress, and about where the dress might find a permanent home when her travels are complete!

You can listen to the chat here, on Be Somerset radio.

I also went to visit the dress as it has returned to ACEArts, and is there throughout June.

Section of The Red Dress in ACEArts Somerton. Dress shows a blackbird and other embroidery

The dress was every bit as powerful and uplifting as I had expected. From the beautifully embroidered blackbird (we've got baby blackbirds nesting in our garden at the moment, so I was immediately drawn there), to the delicately embroidered snowdrops by gallery curator Nina...

A section of The Red Dress at ACEArts in Somerton. The dress features snowdrops

... the little reminder of Wells Cathedral...

A section of The Red Dress at ACEArts in Somerton, Somerset. The section shows Wells Cathedral

and the smiley sheep!

A section of The Red Dress at ACEArts Somerton, Somerset. It features a sheep.

There were lots of motifs that caught my eye.

After walking around the dress several times, I felt increasingly moved by stories I hadn't heard or seen before. The ones that left me wanting to know more.

A section of The Red Dress at ACEArts in Somerton, Somerset. It shows the motif Woman. Freedom. Life.

The big, bold words 'Woman. Life. Freedom' represented one such story and I discovered that this was created by a woman from Iran who is seeking asylum in the UK at the moment. She embroidered the panel as she desperately wanted a way to show solidarity with other women in her country after the death of Mahsa Amini. As Kirstie says:

"I think for her it was her way of being able to connect with her country and to stand with the women of her was an incredible process to be able to observe from the side, and her daughter came and said to me afterwards, thanks for giving her this opportunity because it's been like therapy for her".

Every time you look at the dress you see something different. A reminder of peace. An encouragement to love. A heartbreaking experience that has begun to heal.

A section of The Red Dress at ACEArts in Somerton. It shows love and peace

There is something for everyone in this dress. It preserves the moments of life in all their agonising cruelty and optimistic beauty - and it reflects the stories, thoughts and feelings of the time.

The Red Dress is at ACEArts in Somerton until the end of June 2024. You can check out the gallery opening times here.

The Red Dress on display at ACEArts in Somerton, Somerset


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